04 October 2018
4 October 2018 | 9.20am
Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel Singapore
Defence Minister of Singapore His Excellency Dr. Ng Eng Hen;
Deputy Ministers of Defense;
His Excellency Ambassador Ong Keng Yong;
It is an honour and pleasure for me to address the 2018 Southeast Asia Counter-Terrorism Symposium: A Collective Approach. I would also like to express my appreciation for the hospitality and warm reception by the Singapore government and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies to me and members of my delegation from Indonesia.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The unpredictable developments in the strategic environment have caused uncertainty. Today, uncertainty is the only certainty. Distance among countries is no longer a barrier now. Meanwhile, the dependency among the nation-states is growing. This has created unity and cooperation among people in the region. Hence, future threat will no longer be a conventional one of open war among countries. Rather, it would be a tangible and realistic threat. Among them is the clash of interests in the name of certain ideology from a social or marginalized groups.
This has caused a new form of threat called tangible threat. This threat is dynamic in nature and multi-dimensional which has manifested itself in physical and non-physical forms. International and domestic threats can stem from terrorism and radicalism; separatism and armed insurgencies; natural disasters and environmental issues; violation of border area; piracy and robbery at sea; theft of natural and mineral resources; arms smuggling; contagious diseases; misuse of drugs and distribution, as well as cyber and intelligence war. The characteristics of those threats are that they do not recognise state borders; do not recognise religion; do not recognise time; and perpetrate indiscriminate violence.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today, the threat of terrorism and radicalism has emerged as a serious threat in Southeast Asia. We need concrete and serious joint steps to counter it. The threat is cross-border, widespread and conducted through a network of underground activities. Countering it needs collective action through collaboration in terms of inter-state capability and interactions that are intensive, constructive, and concrete.
It is regrettable that recently Indonesia has suffered terrorist attacks in terms of modus operandi, perpetrated by an entire family. It occurred in a few places in Surabaya. Few other terrorist acts occurred in other areas of Indonesia. There are other families at large who are wanted by the security forces.
They are not following the teachings of Islam of peace and love. It is very irrational when a mother asks her children to conduct suicide acts. Where is the heart of the mother? A mother should have a natural instinct to protect and maintain her children from threats that would harm her children. We must fight this concept and ideology.
The terrorists are indoctrinated by a deviant ideology, misguided by heavenly promises of martyrdom, such as: 1) They will go to heaven; 2) They will meet with God; 3) They will have their sins and mistakes forgiven; 4) 70 of family members will be brought to heaven; 5) Those who are men will meet with 72 virgins in heaven.
We cannot permit gaps against terrorist and radical groups to develop and suffer attacks in the Southeast Asian region. As state apparatus in defense and security, we must take the initiative to destroy them. Hence, today’s meeting becomes very important, amidst our efforts to develop an effective strategy and an operational platform.
In Southeast Asia, the Southern Philippines, especially Sulu Seas that directly border Indonesia and Malaysia have been made into an IS-stronghold. Such a development could be a launching pad to trigger other terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia. The influence of the Islamic State (IS) is expanding into Southeast Asia by creating an alliance of groups in the region under the control of IS-central led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi based in Syria and Iraq.
The global terrorism landscape is evolving and experiencing changes. A cooperative effort by all the countries across the globe and region is needed to counter this threat.
With IS ideology and presence spreading to parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the next phase of the IS threat will be in the creation of multiple provinces. The IS has established a nuclei in the Philippines for Southeast Asia, Afghanistan for South Asia, Xinjiang for Northeast Asia, Chechnya for the Caucasus, Yemen for the Middle East, Nigeria for West Africa, Somalia for East Africa and Libya for North Africa.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Current terrorism threat in this region is from the third generation of terrorists. After the creation of Al-Qaeda and the creation of IS in Syria and Iraq, and coalition operations in the Middle East led to the birth of the third generation. The formation of the third terrorist generation undergoes evolution through 2 phases:
(1) Qaeda-centric phase, 400 fighters from the region gained training and experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan before returning home. In Thailand, these fighters created Jemaah Salafiya and Kumpulan Militan in Malaysia, Jemaah Islamiyah in Singapore and Indonesia and Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines.
(2) The IS-centric phase created groups such as Kumpulan Gagak Hitam and al Kubro Generation in Malaysia, Jamaah Ansharud Daulah in Indonesia and Islamic State Lanao (Maute Group) and IS in the Philippines. Today, 63 groups in Southeast Asia have pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi and many are willing to kill and die for the IS cause.
The threat has decentralized from a centralised IS spreading worldwide after the dismantling of IS in Iraq and Syria. IS then spreads to parts of the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Asia and especially Southeast Asia. Another specific characteristic of the third generation of terrorism threat is the return of IS Foreign Terrorist Fighter from the Middle East. Based on Indonesian Ministry of Defense’s intelligence data, there are around 31,500 foreign terrorist fighters who join IS in Syria and Iraq; an estimated 800 of them are from Southeast Asia, of which around 700 are from Indonesia.
Recent years have seen the Thamrin attack in Indonesia on January 14, 2016, Movida club attack in Malaysia on June 28, 2016 and the siege of an entire city in Marawi in the Philippines on May 23, 2017. Timely arrests also disrupted a dozen other plots, including a plan to fly an explosives laden drone into the police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, mount a suicide attack against the State Palace in Jakarta and fire a rocket at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. The situation remains serious today – a terrorist attack can take place anywhere and at anytime. Recently uncovered plots have revealed plans by terrorists to make anthrax and botulinum in Malaysia and ricin and thorium in Indonesia. It is clear that the terrorists are determined to destabilize our region and create a province of the caliphate, also known as a wilayat. Unlike al Qaeda and JI in the early 2000s that operated discretely, IS, through its use of graphic videos, speeches and attack methods, has opted for open and indiscriminate warfare. With a mandate to govern and protect the people, the question arises what we as government officials, politicians, and responsible citizens have done to mitigate the current and emerging threat.
The terrorist threat in Southeast Asia has shifted dramatically when IS linked Filipino groups sieged Marawi city on May 23, 2017. Although IS’ plans to establish a wilayat in Southeast Asia have been known since 2014, governments underestimated the extent of the IS threat in our region. Regional authorities have not exercised intelligence exchange procedure proportionately to prevent the fall of Marawi city to IS.
Even after the siege of Marawi, the flow of intelligence relatively has not gone effectively and become less accurate. At the Shangri-La Dialogue on June 3 and 4 2017, I said that IS’ strength in the Philippines numbered between 1,000 to 1,200, including 40 fighters from Indonesia. When I flew to Manila on June 6, 2017, I was informed that IS’ strength in Marawi was only 50 strong and was supported by drug cartel networks of up to 500 personnel.
I provided the Philippines a breakdown of the 16 IS groups and their numerical strength. The most capable groups were identified as IS Sulu and Basilan with between 400-570 fighters; Islamic State Lanao (Maute Group) with 263; Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters with 406; and Ansar Khilafa Mindanao with between 7-37. The intelligence was available but fragmented and despite the signs of an imminent threat, we have not prepared serious and concrete counter measures.
The siege of Marawi is a warning for all of us to appreciate the value of intelligence gathering and sharing. After the five-month long battle in Marawi ended on October 23, 2017, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said 986 terrorists were killed or captured. In conventional and non-traditional warfare, developing intelligence and ensuring collaboration is key. Had the agencies under the ministries of defence and home affairs shared and exchanged intelligence, this attack could have been prevented or preempted. Without accurate and high quality intelligence, we will be wasting our time and resources at the expense of precious lives lost. The siege of Marawi demonstrated that our region was unprepared for the current and emerging wave of terrorism. It also demonstrated the need for a new security architecture for the ASEAN region.
The Need for a New Security Architecture
The first step in an embryonic regional security architecture is the need for a multilateral intelligence sharing platform to detect foreign fighter travel, the establishment of training camps, dissemination of propaganda, and movement of terrorist funds.
The Our Eyes Initiative (OEI) emerged during my visit to Singapore on July 6, 2017 when I met with Singapore’s Minister of Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University. The meeting gave me confidence to build a collaborative intelligence platform. Minister Shanmugam supported my proposal for a regional platform to deal with terrorism and radicalization, and share counter terrorism intelligence.
In August 2017, I wrote to my counterparts in the region and sought their views on launching “Our Eyes Initiative” (OEI). We agreed on the five main components: creating a common database, exchange of personnel, joint training and operations, and lastly, sharing of expertise, resources and experience. The Ministers of Defence for Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Brunei agreed to establish a joint working group and at a later date, to invite Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to join this group. As regional partners, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have also agreed to join the OEI.
The shooting and beheading of prisoners, burning of churches, taking of hostages and use of female captives including children as sex slaves in Marawi was a signal that IS ideology and methodology has taken root in ASEAN. The defence ministers were concerned that the threat will spread from the Philippines to Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand. The three most affected countries – Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia developed the Trilateral Cooperative Arrangement (TCA) that disrupted terrorist hijackings and hostage taking in the Sulu Sea.
The first component of TCA was the launching of the Trilateral Maritime Patrol (TMP) by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in Tarakan, Indonesia on June 19, 2017. Maritime Command Centres (MCC) were established in Tarakan, Tawau in Sabah and Bongao in the Philippines. Singapore and Brunei were invited as observers. Singapore offered its Information Fusion Centre (IFC) to facilitate maritime information sharing for the TMP. The second component of TCA was the launch of the Trilateral Air Patrol (TAP) by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines at the Subang Air Base in Malaysia on October 12, 2017. Singapore and Brunei were again invited as observers.
We are planning for the third and fourth components – national and joint land forces training and exercises starting in October 2018, and joint operations in early 2019. Defence ministers from the Philippines and Malaysia had previously laid the foundation for collaboration and now Minister Mohamad bin Sabu from Malaysia has agreed to advance this collaboration further.
Only by working together we can stem the continuing flow of funds and fighters to our region. If we only think of our national interests, we cannot make progress. The creation of OEI was based on the principle that it takes a network to beat a network. If the terrorists in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore can train together in the Philippines, why should we not train, exercise and operate together? At the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting in the Philippines on October 23, 2017, we reviewed the range of measures taken to prevent the spread of the terrorist threat from Mindanao to the region. As defense ministers, we vowed to not allow IS to take root in the region. We assessed that IS grew in the Middle East due to the weak response of Middle Eastern leaders. We decided to adopt a robust and sustained response. Although the threat diminished after Marawi, the daily reports of incidents in Mindanao demonstrates the continuity of the threat. The suicide bombing in Lamitan in Basilan by a Moroccan foreign terrorist fighter on July 31, 2018 is the most significant recent attack.
Managing the Threat
We are facing a common threat. The way to mitigate this threat is to find a collaboration format that can accommodate the interests of all parties. As members of the ASEAN family, we should work together. However, the shift from counter terrorism cooperation to collaboration remains a challenge as many countries continue to view regional relations with a geo-political lens.
In this good opportunity, let me share with you that working together made us stronger and more effective in countering terrorism. The original plan of IS was to create a wilayat in Poso, Central Sulawesi, a former conflict area. IS central supported and funded Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT), a group led by Santoso, one of the first Indonesian terrorist leaders to pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. By collaborating with the police, the Indonesian army snipers killed the Indonesian IS leader on July 18, 2016. The joint police and military team involved in Operation Tinombala had mounted surveillance on the MIT leadership living in a dense jungle for weeks. As the former commander of Kostrad (Army Strategic Command) of Indonesia, I had raised the raiders for counter terrorism and counter insurgency operations, forming 10 Raider Battalions. It was a classic case of the police and army working together and producing results. Only after Indonesia had delivered a crushing blow to MIT, did IS decide to create a wilayat in the Philippines.
In Marawi, cooperation between the police and the military was pivotal. It was the intelligence gathered from a female hostage by the police that enabled an elite army unit to locate both Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, the IS leader and deputy leader. Similarly, the bodies of the Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco and his son were positively identified due to international law enforcement and military collaboration. It is important to understand that in a conflict zone, the military is best placed to lead the fight. In Marawi, the terrorists had access to military grade weapons ranging from stand-off weapons to sniper rifles and IEDs to drones. Furthermore, they were ideologically driven by a willingness to die. It is significant that less than a dozen terrorist surrendered to the military in Marawi and shows that the police alone could not have defeated the threat.
The situation in Indonesia was no different. Public confidence in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in May 2018 was restored because of closer collaboration between the police and the military. Although less than 1% of Southeast Asian Muslims are influenced by IS, those indoctrinated are very fanatical. When IS inmates sieged the prison in Kelapa Dua in Jakarta on May 8, 2018, they gained access to weapons in the evidence room and dared the police to attack them. Believing that they will die as martyrs and go to heaven, the terrorists refused to surrender for two days. Similarly, the multiple suicide attacks involving entire families in Surabaya on May 13 and 14 overwhelmed the police. The deployment of the military in support of the police gave confidence to the public and stabilized the situation.
Counter terrorism responses should not be limited to state actors. Governments must have the foresight to engage civil society organizations, the academia and the private sector to both prevent and counter violent extremism. Around the world, these actors have proven to be creative and effective in crafting initiatives to counter the terrorist threat and promote moderation. Governments should lead and coordinate these efforts but civil society actors have a better reach within the respective communities.
Terrorism and insurgency are by-products of exclusivism and extremism. Indonesia is fortunate to have Pancasila, a natural antidote against the exclusivism and extremism propagated by terrorists. My own ministry works closely with civil society members to instill an Indonesian identity in vulnerable individuals through Bela Negara program.
Based on experience, most ministers of defense are too focused on building their military forces to go to war with other nation-states. The primary threat today is no longer from inter-states, but terrorist and criminal actors operating in both the physical and cyber space. This threat does not recognize national borders and unless we collaborate, will increasingly endanger our citizens. To deal with the changing threat landscape in Southeast Asia, militaries, law enforcement and intelligence services should better understand terrorism, extremism and exclusivism. I congratulate the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies for taking the lead to formally and informally educate the security services community in the region.
Today, we must be stronger than ever before. Although creating the right counter terrorism architecture is a work in progress, we have made headway because of the indomitable spirit of our leaders. Working in partnership with countries in the region and beyond on the operational and intelligence fronts has produced huge successes. To enhance early warning, detection and deterrence capabilities, six Southeast Asian nations formally launched the Our Eyes Initiative (OEI) in Bali on January 25, 2018.
With more nations both within and outside the region requesting to join our counter terrorism alliance, OEI has the potential to grow and surpass Five Eyes, the intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
We are currently exchanging counter terrorism intelligence in the region. Our extra-regional partners including the US has provided significant intelligence and operational leadership, the latest being a US led counter terrorism operation against Bahrun Naim in Ash Shafa, Syria on June 8, 2018. The operation is classified and I cannot go into details but I want to say that the US airstrike against Bahrun Naim was successful.
Bahrun Naim was the directing figure of over a dozen successful and failed attacks, including a plot to fire a rocket at MBS in Singapore. The operation demonstrated the value of cooperation between our governments. Another long term terrorist target Abu Ghaida was killed in a US airstrike in Kashma on May 23, 2018. An Indonesian IS propagandist before traveling to Syria, he joined the IS media wing and was the sole producer of Philippines propaganda. To support the IS siege of Marawi, Abu Ghaida effectively promoted IS in the region and helped to build the IS Philippines media unit. The counter terrorism operations against Bahrun Naim and Abu Ghaida demonstrated that the reach of the US will remain vital as Southeast Asians have recently started to travel to Afghanistan as an alternative theatre to Syria.
Let me conclude by paying a tribute to Singapore for its zero tolerance approach against terrorism. A legacy of its founding father, Lee Kwan Yew, I find this spirit apparent in both the Minister of Defence of Singapore Dr Ng Eng Hen and Senior Minister of State for Defence Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman. Let me take this opportunity to extend Indonesia’s hand of friendship and cooperation to all nations represented at this symposium. Thank you.
- News Release
- Opening Remarks by Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of RSIS
- Remarks by Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs, at the Official Dinner
- Event Page
- Three Challenges for ASEAN in Military’s Growing Role in Fighting Terror, The Straits Times, 13 September 2018
- Top Malaysian Defence Officials Visit Singapore, The Straits Times, 3 October 2018
- Singapore, Malaysia Reaffirm Warm Defence Relations, Channel NewsAsia, 3 October 2018
- Singapore Working Closely with Indonesia to Get more Support for Regional Counter-terrorism Network: Ng Eng Hen, The Straits Times, 4 October 2018
- Exchanging Information Vital to Fight Terror in the Region: Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, The Straits Times, 4 October 2018
- Top Malaysian Defence Officials Visit Singapore, The New Paper, 4 October 2018
- ASEAN Countries Seek to Forge Stronger Ties against Terrorism, Xinhua News Agency, 5 October 2018
- Jakarta Minister Cites Marawi Siege to Stress Sharing of Intelligence, The Straits Times, 5 October 2018
- Singapore Seeks Support for Regional Anti-terror Platform, The Straits Times, 5 October 2018
- ASEAN Calls for Enhanced Anti-terrorism Capacity, Vietnam Plus, 5 October 2018
Last updated on 02/07/2019